Date: Sunday, 10 September 2017
Start: Camped Wanda Lake at Mile 840.5, 11444 ft
Finish: Camped near Muir Trail Ranch, 1.8 miles from Mile 857.7, 7694 ft
Daily Miles: 17.2 PCT, plus 1.8 to campsite near Muir Trail Ranch
Total PCT Miles: 2178.4
Weather: Cold early, then mild and sunny.
Breakfast: Rehydrated lasagne with meat sauce.
Dinner: Rehydrated chilli mac with beef
Aches: Underside of both forefeet still a problem. Back to donut bandages tomorrow.
Highlight: Evolution Valley, with its almost park-like landscape of woods, meadows and babbling brooks with deer grazing was memorable.
Lowlight: I had worked hard all afternoon, with my sore feet taking a battering on a frequently rocky uneven track, to get to Muir Trail Ranch before 5:00pm (advertised closing time) in the hope of getting a cabin for the night plus dinner and breakfast and a shower. It’s unlikely my arrival time of 5:08pm made any difference, and there were no vacancies, but as my exhausted body filled a water bottle before heading off somewhere nearby to camp for the night, it was a little hard watching those lucky enough to have accommodation, lounging on a nearby deck enjoying a pre-dinner beer while the host fired up tbe BBQ for dinner.
Pictures: Click here
After a very cold night (I was at 11444 ft in an exposed campsite), it took longer to pack up than usual and was nearly 7:00am before I began hiking, very rugged up. The skies were clear and it looked set to be a beautiful day, but it was a couple of hours before the sun rose high enough to shine on me. Nevertheless the cold shadows seemed apt for the stark rocky landscape and icy lakes.
Before I had been hiking an hour, I seemed to be running on empty with little energy or motivation. The cause was likely that I had scarcely any dinner last night and no water since yesterday afternoon, so I decided that when I stopped for breakfast, a hot meal and large hot chocolate was required. Around 9:00am I found a sunny spot beside a beautiful lake and cooked myself some breakfast. Of course, the break took nearly an hour on a morning when I had already started late, but the nourishment seemed to do the trick and I felt better afterwards.
I checked the map while stopped and realised I still had some way to go to reach Muir Trail Ranch where I hoped, as a longshot, to get accommodation and meals for tonight, so had better keep moving. If I struck out on the accommodation and meals, then I was hoping to find some extra food in their “Hiker Box” where hikers with too much food or gear leave the surplus in case others can use it. By reputation, John Muir Trail hikers overstock and leave good pickings for others. Although I do have enough food to get me to Reds Meadows, from where I will hitch to Mammoth Lakes, I would like an additional evening meal, if I can get it, and maybe a few snacks. The guide book said the ranch closed at 5:00pm so I wanted to get there before then.
After breakfast, I continued my way downwards towards Evolution Valley, doing the inverse of yesterday. That is, brief sections of flatter forest in high valleys, followed by steep rocky descents to the next lower valley, and so on. It was hard on the feet and legs going down, but not as hard as going up, and I sympathised with the JMT hikers heading the other direction. Eventually, I reached the beautiful Evolution Valley (see above) and could see why it has become a scenic attraction, and the weather was perfect for enjoying it.
Less enjoyable was the need to wade across Evolution Creek which was too deep for my boots, so I switched to my running shoes for the crossing. This whole exercise cost me about 20 minutes that I felt I could ill afford in my quest to get to the ranch before 5:00pm. From there, I decided to walk virtually non-stop to the ranch and try to maintain a good pace regardless of terrain. This proved challenging as the trail dropped steeply to meet and follow the San Joaquin River as it plunged down through a steep gorge. It was a spectacular sight, and I pondered on how I was becoming blase about such roaring waterfalls, chutes and cascades.
I never got the nice even trail I was hoping for, and reached the ranch soon after 5:00pm. The gate was closed and it said the hours were from 8 to 5, but I let myself in anyway, since there seemed to be hikers milling around in their yard. I found the manageress who confirmed no accommodation was available, and also that I would have to come back after 8:00am, if I wanted to go through the Hiker Box, which was a double disappointment. I filled my waterbottle with their spring water and walked to an area outside the ranch in the forest where plenty of other hikers were camped. Many have their supplies sent to the ranch, which is an expensive business given the only access is via mule train ($55 per box), so I’m guessing that’s why they are here. I did plan to leave early tomorrow, but on reflection have decided to sleep in and check the Hiker Box on my way back to the PCT tomorrow.